Three Questions with Dmytro Kuleba, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine

6 min read
On December 13, GMF Senior Fellow Jonathan Katz sat down with Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

On December 13, GMF Senior Fellow Jonathan Katz sat down with Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Just days after Ukraine and Russia’s presidents met face-to-face for the first time since 2016, Kuleba discussed the outcome of the December 9 Normandy Four meeting in France. The dialogue with Kuleba, who is responsible for Ukraine’s NATO and European Union integration efforts, focused on Russia, the resolution of the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Kuleba also discussed U.S.-Ukrainian relations, Ukraine’s efforts to further integrate into the EU and NATO, and the government’s efforts to carry out needed reforms. In addition to the discussion, GMF hosted a public event with Deputy Prime Minister Kuleba in Washington on December 13. Please follow this link to watch the CSPAN recording of the event.

The Normandy meeting that took place in Paris on December 9 produced mixed results. Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, including military engagement in eastern Ukraine continues.  One of the key areas of discussion and a priority for President Volodymyr Zelensky is the return of illegally detained Ukrainians. How are the results of the Normandy meeting viewed in Kyiv several days after negotiations ended and how important is it for the government that Ukrainian captives are returned?

Well, the worst-case scenario for Normandy is doing nothing. So, when we have a meeting of four leaders sitting at the same table discussing issues and taking commitments, that is already a step in the right direction. The outcomes should not be considered as a breakthrough or as a resolution of conflict, but it’s a step in the right direction.

We will now be focused on three things. First, the exchange of detainees. We want our people to be back from the places of the current detention because we do care about our people. Second, we have to continue the disengagement efforts to make sure that there are less shootings and less victims on the ground, along, as we call it, "the contact line.” And third, there needs to be some quiet diplomacy to seek political solutions to the issues which prevent resolution of the conflict, and the most fundamental issue that requires attention now is border, the state border between Ukraine and Russia.

On this last point, you cannot resolve a conflict, you cannot restore sovereignty and territorial integrity, you cannot hold fair elections without controlling your border. That’s a fundamental issue. And that’s where we have fundamental differences with Russia. That’s who we have to talk to if we want to look for solutions.

For us, detainees are our people, who should be saved, who should be protected, and who should be freed. For us, it’s human life that matters. For the Russians, these are just cards, royal cards, in the game, and they clearly demonstrate that different approach.

We (Ukraine) are very human-centric and our policy is very human-centric. This is why for us it is so crucial, so essential to have our people back. And we are ready to give their people back to them. There’s another very telling and visual difference. Our people return home as heroes. Cheering crowds meet them and the president meets each one personally. At the same time, no one meets and cheers the returned Russians. They arrive in silence, invisibly and lonely. That’s the difference of treatment that anyone can see.

As deputy prime minister you focus on deepening Ukraine’s integration with NATO and the EU. What can the Trump administration, the United States, and partners in Europe do to advance integration and strengthen Ukraine’s democracy, economy, and security? How important is it for Ukraine to continue to receive bipartisan support in the United States?

When it comes to NATO, the voice of the United States is critical and essential. It goes without saying, how important the positive attitude and policy of the United States is to advancing alliance integration. Some in NATO are still afraid that bringing Ukraine closer to the alliance increases risks of hostility from Russia and destabilizes the region as a whole. This is a distorted perception of reality that Russia plays a role in advancing. And it does impact the mindsets of some. Washington’s firm counter-voice on this issue is crucially important to send a clear message: when NATO promises publicly on a number of occasions that no third country will have an impact on decisions taken by the alliance towards Ukraine, this should not only be declared, but also proven on practice.

What Ukraine values the most in its relations with the United States is the bipartisan support it has enjoyed over decades, including in the Congress. This is fundamental to Ukraine and we deeply appreciate this continued assistance and support from the United States. While in Washington this week, I had congressional meetings in both the House and Senate, with both Republicans and Democrats. I am happy to share that Ukraine further enjoys a strong bipartisan congressional support. That is critically important for us, and we will be working on consolidating that support and making sure that both Republicans and Democrats in Washington see Ukraine as a source of opportunities for the United States, not problems it needs to solve.

When it comes to Ukraine’s membership in the EU, that’s a slightly different issue since the United States is not a member of the EU. However, we do still count on leaders in Washington to send a clear message to their European allies that Ukraine is an integral part of the Western world and that it deserves to be a member of both the EU and NATO.

We have seen encouraging steps by President Zelensky and the new parliament led by his Servant of the People party to carryout key reforms. Ukrainians saw similar initial efforts by the Yushchenko and Poroshenko governments respectively after the Orange Revolution and following EuroMaidan in 2014. What makes this reform effort different from previous governments?

We are ready to take the most ambitious and risky steps in the best interest of our country. Last year brought about a generational shift in the Ukrainian elite. Around 80 percent of the new parliament’s members are elected for the first time. The government is formed mostly of new people. This has finally led to a severe disruption of all those multiple ties and vested interests that had traditionally interconnected Ukrainian elites in the past. Those ties had forced them into various compromises that harmed essential interests of our country’s economy and development. We have proven over the last three months that we are ready, that we are capable of taking the most difficult decisions, which our predecessors had not been able to take. We do that because we need to truly unlock Ukraine’s economic potential. It’s a “change or die” moment and we chose the path of change. That’s what we are currently doing.